Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Everything is a lie
'How do I get you to click on my client’s link, stay on their site, and buy their stuff?' Also, 7 other things worth your time.
Yesterday we talked about Gmail; alphabetically I guess that means today we talk about Google Search. That’s a bit of a joke (I admit, not a great one), but it’s also my way of introducing Sharon Best, who is a very talented writer who pays the bills by being an SEO content creator.
I thought I knew all the tricks that people use to manipulate search, but then I read Sharon’s story below and realized there are some simple ones I’d completely missed. I think you’ll find it interesting, too.
Here’s Sharon …
Behind the curtain
by Sharon Best
Everything you see on the Internet is a lie.
That’s what I like to say glibly to my friends when I talk about my work. I am a freelance SEO content creator for a wide range of clients—from makers of fine chocolates to clothing and jewelry e-tailers to companies that custom print those giant windsock advertising dancers.
What is a freelance SEO content creator, you ask? Well, “freelance” means I work gig to gig, with no single employer, and “content creator” is a synonym for writer. Ikr?
Now, I’m also what you’d call a “real” writer. I have an MFA in Creative Nonfiction. I’ve studied the craft, endlessly discussed the finer points of story structure, character development, metaphor, sensory detail, point of view. I dreamed of publishing my thesis and living off a fat advance for the artistic oeuvre I was sure lived inside me.
But, spoiler alert, no one throws publishing contracts at you upon completion of an upper-level liberal arts degree.
So, I was an Editorial Associate (yet another name for a writer) for a local lifestyle magazine for four years, which was kind of a creative pursuit but frustratingly dependent on advertising.
Enter a grad school colleague, making a fine living with freelance SEO writing.
She introduced me to her contact, and I dove into that murky world, which was ultimately more lucrative than print work. Go figure.
I did both for a while until I couldn’t afford to spend the time on interviewing people for magazine articles when freelance gigs were plentiful and much easier.
So, what is SEO, you ask for the second time? SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” which involves composing text in such a way that it will appear closest to the top of your SERP—aka “search engine results page.”
Once more in plain English: It’s writing content for a webpage in a way that will trick the algorithms of a search engine, like Google or Bing, into showing that page as high as possible.
Most people don’t look past the first five or so items out of the millions that come up when we search for, say, “ladies sandals” or “GMC truck caps.” Companies pay big bucks to get their ads featured at eye level on that results page.
Those who can’t afford that kind of marketing often put their limited resources into writers like me, banking on the odds that my skills will lure you into clicking through to their site and buying their product.
So, how do I do it? How do I get you to click on my client’s link, stay on their site, and buy their stuff? This is why we’re all here, so let’s get to it.
My SEO process includes three main elements:
Keywords. Keywords are the word or phrases you type into a search engine to find something. They can be single words, like “steaks” for example, or phrases, like “where to find hormone-free Wagyu steaks near me.”
Marketing teams spend countless hours figuring out exactly what their targeted audience is searching for and how they’re phrasing it—then they put more hours into getting those phrases more and more specific to searchers who are ready to buy.
My job involves incorporating awkward phrases such as, “pendant gold 14k” and ‘kitchen lighting ideas small kitchen” into readable, compelling, grammatically correct English. It’s tricky to make those sound natural, even with creative punctuation.
Think about that next time you see a sentence like, “Not only does this [product] bring to the washroom the spicy, slightly camphoric undertones of tea tree; goat milk soap soothes irritated skin while food grade olive and coconut oils moisturize like a boss.” (The keyword was ‘tea tree goat milk soap.’)
CTA Verbs. That’s “call-to-action verbs” for you non-marketing types. Visit any website and you’ll see plenty of them.
Find verbs that inspire action on every page that’s selling a product or service. Discover how these verbs affect your buying habits! Learn about writing persuasive copy! Get more for less with tight, short sentences! Shop smarter with insight into SEO best practices! Skip the hassles and achieve enlightenment now.
Seriously, I have lists of verbs in alphabetical order on my home office desk. I keep several online dictionaries and thesauruses bookmarked. Our emotional connection to action words runs deep. I exploit it with glee in my work.
Organic Integration. I spent my three years in a semi-well-known graduate writing program interviewing people and writing personal profiles. I also worked as a university writing tutor, helping young students figure out how to write thesis statements and research papers at the college level.
The skill I honed in those years was my ear for narrative. I’ve always been a reader, so a dramatic arc was nothing new to me. But breaking down the elements of a story— an opening hook, exposition, rising action, dramatic tension, resolution, reflection— for novice writers helped me see stories everywhere.
Applying this to SEO means going beyond describing a product (“telling” in workshop parlance) to explaining how that product will affect the consumer’s life in a positive way (“showing”). For example, it’s not just a fit-and-flare dress with a vintage-inspired design—it’s a flattering design that’s fit for the office but flirty enough for date night and showcases all your best assets.
See what I did there?
* * *
My favorite scene from the classic film “The Wizard of Oz” is when Dorothy and her posse have arrived at the Emerald Kingdom and surprised the so-called wizard. Unveiled from his hidey spot, the normal human looks them dead in the eye and commands into his godly mic: “Ignore that man behind the curtain.”
Now that I’ve revealed all my trade secrets, you may never be able to go back to ignoring the behind-the-curtain machinations of SEO. But I think that’s a good thing.
7 other things worth knowing today
Last month was among the planet’s top three hottest Julys on record, apparently falling just between the hottest July in 2019 and the second hottest in 2016. Statistically speaking, 2022, 2019 and 2016 are so close that the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service simply ranks it among the top three. (Scientific American)
Serena Williams, the legendary athlete who's won countless titles including 23 Grand Slams over a playing career that has spanned nearly three decades, suggested that she intends to retire after the upcoming U.S. Open in a Vogue essay published on Tuesday. (CBS News)
Anyone else out there actually prefer a manual transmission? They're getting harder to find and will probably soon be a relic of the past. Here's an Atlantic article by another old soul bemoaning their passing; also a list of models that still come with a stick.(The Atlantic, CARFAX)
Richer people are eating more at Applebees and IHOP due to inflation, the CEO of the company that owns both brands said this week. Revenue from customers who earn more than $75,000 a year is up 6 to 8 percent. (CNN)
Unfamiliar with the layoff process, overwhelmed tech firms are flooding experts on how to let employees go with requests for help. “HR departments are scrambling,” one CEO said. "Never seen anything like this." (Vice)
News Canadians can use: The Canada Revenue Agency says a total of about 50,000 Canadians are owed cash: unredeemed checks representing money sitting in its coffers worth $1.4 billion, with some dating back to 1998. (CTV, submitted by a reader!)
Why do some teens insist on wearing hoodies in crazy hot summer heat? A former president of the American Meteorological Society (and dad to a 13-year-old hoodie-wearer) decided to try to figure it out. (Forbes)
Thanks for reading. Photo credits: Pixabay & courtesy of Sharon Best. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here. See you in the comments!